Upper and middle class Bangladeshi families are familiar with domestic workers, although they do not typically recognize them as “workers.” In Bangladesh, domestic workers are routinely denied a decent minimum wage, working hours, a healthy work environment, maternity benefits, and so forth and some are routinely victimized by their employers.
Who is a typically referred to as a domestic worker? Usually a domestic worker is a person who performs household chores for money and/or benefits. Current Bangladeshi labour laws deny workers their rights and refers to these workers as servants. The recently enacted Domestic Violence (Prevention & Protection) Act does not cover domestic workers under its purview.
The 2011 Domestic Workers Convention first recognized domestic work as “work” and persons engaged in this sort of work as workers and also introduced a set of rights for these workers.
Although there is no special law protecting domestic workers, Bangladesh’s constitution does guarantee some rights. The Prevention of Oppression Against Women and Children Act 2000 can be used to punish abusers and traffickers of women, it was intended to safeguard women in general and has no specific provision given to protect domestic workers.
Domestic workers are mostly illiterate and unaware of their rights. Moreover, there is no effective mechanism to inform them of their legal protections. In addition, it is really difficult for them to fight against their wealthy and powerful bosses. Hence, Bangladesh should arrange such means to inform them of their rights and provide sufficient legal aid to these workers. There should be a system of registration and monitoring of all persons engaged in domestic work.
Domestic work is particularly isolated in nature as it is carried out in the home of the employer. Domestic service thus needs to come under some form of private and public regulation, inspection and supervision. Hence to protect the rights of domestic workers there needs to be in place a sound and functioning institutional framework that will ensure that legal provisions and policies are observed as well as enforced. In addition, sufficient help centers should be established in different parts of the country where domestic workers can seek help in cases of cruelty, violence and a violation of their rights.
Bangladesh is obliged under both national and international law to protect and promote the rights and interests of domestic workers. Bangladesh’s constitution guarantees basic and fundamental human rights.
A special piece of legislation for domestic workers could be a proper solution in this regard. However, mere enactment of a new law may not bring about the necessary reforms. We need to change Bangladesh’s mindset; otherwise the scenario will remain same. A more humanitarian approach towards domestic workers will benefit both the worker and the work environment.